Using U.S. Vital Records - October 2023

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In this online genealogy course, you'll learn the basics on how to find and analyze three key records - birth, marriage, and death - for your U.S. ancestors.

Using U.S. Vital Records

Whatever your motivations and goals for researching your family's history, you'll want to uncover evidence of your ancestors' lives. This evidence can and will take the form of records. In this course, you'll learn about birth, marriage, and death records - three key records in genealogical research.

DATE: October 9, 2023 - November 5, 2023

Course Outline

Lesson 1: Vital Records Research Basics

  • Vital Records Research Basics
  • Consider the Source
    • Original Sources
    • Derivative Sources
    • Original or Derivative: Which Should You Use?
  • Consider the Content
    • Primary Information
    • Secondary Information
  • Citing Sources
  • Government Vital Records Overview
    • Vital Records for Ancestors of African Origin
  • Searching Major Genealogy Websites for Vital Records
    • and FamilySearch
    • Searching Indexed Records
    • Searching the Catalogs
  • Searching for Vital Records on Other Websites
  • Requesting Vital Records from Government Offices
  • Records Restrictions
  • Keys to Success

Lesson 2: Birth Records

  • Government Birth Records
    • Finding Birth Records
    • Stillborn Births
    • Birth Record Formats
    • Amended Birth Records
    • Delayed Birth Records
  • Other Sources of Birth Information
    • Family Bible Entries
    • Letters, Journals and Diaries
    • Church Records
    • School Records
    • Naturalization Records
    • Newspaper birth announcements
  • Learn the Context: A Social History of Childbirth

Lesson 3: Marriage and Divorce Records

  • Government Marriage Records
    • Types of Government Marriage Records
      • Marriage License Applications
      • Marriage Licenses and Returns
      • Marriage Registers
      • Marriage Certificates
      • Marriage Bonds
      • Freedmen’s Bureau Marriage Records
    • Finding Government Marriage Records
    • Examining Official Marriage Records
  • Other Marriage Records
    • Marriage Banns
    • Church Marriage Records
    • Newspaper Engagement and Wedding Announcements
  • Clues in the Census
  • Did They Divorce?
  • Picture This: Spotting a Wedding Photo
  • Keys to Success

Lesson 4: Death Records

  • Government Death Records
    • Stillborn (Fetal Death) Deaths
  • Finding Death Records
  • Analyzing Death Records
  • Other Death-Related Records
    • Family Documents
    • Funeral Documentation
    • Probate Records
    • Social Security Death Index (SSDI)
    • Gravestone Transcription Projects
    • Obituaries
    • Census Mortality Schedules
    • Police, Sheriff/Coroner Reports, Disasters
    • Cemetery Records
    • Military Service Papers
    • County and Local Histories
  • Keys to Success


About the Instructor

Sunny Jane Morton

Sunny Jane Morton is a Contributing Editor at Family Tree Magazine; Contributing Editor at, Editor of Ohio Genealogy News and a blogger for She is author of How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records and Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy.

How do Family Tree University workshops work?

Take the course at your own pace! 

From the course start date, you’ll be able to log in to view and access your lessons and start interacting on the discussion boards. Your instructor will check in regularly to answer all of the questions and provide feedback. You will have access to your courses anytime, anywhere, with a computer, tablet or smartphone, and can study when it's most convenient for you.

After the course end date, the course will become read-only for one year. You will continue to have access through your dashboard to the materials, but the discussion boards will be closed. The materials are yours to keep. You can download them onto your desktop to access online or offline.

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